Review: The Nest
by David Katz
- Jude Law and Carrie Coon play a bitterly unhappy couple trying to live the 1980s high life, in Sean Durkin’s belated follow-up to 2011’s Martha Marcy May Marlene
There are perhaps only a handful of actors in each national cinema who possess the talent to elevate every film they work on. Carrie Coon, the key American principal in this otherwise European-Canadian production, is slowly reaching this plateau. In The Nest, one of her first cinematic leading roles after impressing in the likes of Fargo and The Leftovers, her chameleonic performance almost single-handedly saves this solid, formulaic melodrama from banality. The Nest marks a long-delayed sophomore effort from Sean Durkin, whose prior film, Martha Marcy May Marlene, burnt up the festival circuit almost a decade ago. His newest premiered at Sundance 2020 and has been rolling out in Europe in the latter part of this year.
Coon is paired with Jude Law, a more ubiquitous presence on our screens, his longevity owing to his versatility. In his roles for elite filmmakers like Paolo Sorrentino and Steven Soderbergh, he can slot well into a film’s grand design, but in The Nest, he’s let distractingly off the leash, almost literally chewing the judiciously chosen period props off the walls. Apt for its 1980s finance shark milieu, there’s a coked-out energy to his screen presence, although he’s never glimpsed taking drugs or even drinking much. His spouse and teenage children in his troubled family “nest” are more medicated by various stimulants, and maybe wield greater power than he does.
The Nest almost literally enacts what’s required for an international co-production, being set in both the United States (although shot in Canada) and the UK. Inspired by the director’s Atlantic-hopping childhood, and the dislocation inherent in adjusting to a new way of life, The Nest finds the central family, the O’Haras, upping sticks from New York to a 17th-century mansion in Surrey, as pere Rory (Law) returns home for a new opportunity at his former brokerage firm. Coon’s character, Allison, is a horse-riding teacher sure to be estranged from her more balanced, modest lifestyle, and their poor children Sam (Oona Roche) and Ben (Charlie Shotwell) must reintegrate into new schools and friendship circles.
Rory is a habitual liar and an optimist bordering on delusion. He behaves recklessly in his new job, attempting to capitalise on the London financial sector’s famous deregulation, commonly known as the Big Bang, in the Thatcherite 1980s. Allison progressively resembles a tormented housewife out of a Polanski or Cassavetes psychodrama, and the film’s trajectory careens towards predictable tragedy.
In this flawed but potent feature, Durkin is able to conjure real dramatic power in cross-cut sequences late in the third act, much of it provoked by Coon’s gradual rebellion against the controlling but well-intentioned Law. Yet across the story, the dialogue and imagery have an overly diagrammatic quality, feeling on the nose and borrowed from richer, more assured films. Coon’s character is often shown alone tending to her prized horse – her husband has promised to build a stable at their new estate – who could well be named “Symbolism” on account of how it reflects its owners’ fate. Whilst the O’Haras are suppressing their emotions in that stereotypical British way, the horse loudly brays out in the field, as if ventriloquising what’s unsaid.
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